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Africa Confidential, December 2023

What did the UN COP28 Climate summit deliver for Africa?
The final communiqué at the end of the UN COP28 summit in Dubai on 13 December produced what its authors hailed as a breakthrough – it approved a roadmap for 'transitioning away from fossil fuels' | By Tim Concannon

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It was a first for a UN Climate Conference. But it stopped short of what many delegates had called for – 'a phase-out' of the use of coal, gas and oil. Following the transition roadmap, cited in the communiqué, would be voluntary and would not be subject to an agreed timeline.

African states sent their biggest delegations to date to the UN COP28 Climate summit. They reflected the continent's diversity of interests and policies on energy and climate change. The common denominator among the African delegations was that a commitment to sharply improving energy access must accompany the region's strategy to combat climate change.

African government, activist and business delegates to COP28 focused on three broad topics: scientific data and figures, climate finance and investment, and strategies to 'phase-out' fossil fuels.

The big state parties at the UN COP28 summit presented the final communiqué as a victory that can 'keep 1.5 alive' (the necessity to keep atmospheric warming within 1.5 °C relative to pre-industrial levels).

The result for African countries – where 17% of humanity lives and are responsible for under 4% of global carbon emissions – is far less of a triumph for diplomacy.

Many officials take the view that the COP28 deal is better than no deal at all but add the formal agreement should lead to urgent and practical climate actions, that cut demand for fossil fuels and end the most damaging emissions. 'That this deal has been hailed as a landmark is more a measure of previous failures,' according to James Dyke of the University of Exeter.

Here are ten key areas of negotiation and policy in which Africa's delegations played an important role:

  1. FOSSIL FUEL COMPROMISE The language of the COP28 communiqué dropped the 'phase out/phase down' conundrum that has plagued negotiations on coal in Glasgow's COP26, in favour of 'transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner'. This was backed even by governments in coal and oil-dependent states, such as South Africa and Nigeria, which announced more plans to diversify their economies.
  2. FOSSIL FUEL SUBSIDIES Nigeria is an outlier and a trend-setter on subsidies: it has eliminated fuel subsidies, a move which has punished consumers, and is encouraging others to follow suit. Global fuel subsidies have rocketed in recent years; the IMF reported that global direct fossil fuel subsidies reached US$1.3 trillion in 2022 but that implicit and indirect subsidies (including the damage to infrastructure, health and food production) amounted to $7trn in 2022. This compares with the cost of a global transition to renewable energy which is reckoned at $4trn a year between now and 2030. A Dutch-led coalition of a dozen countries committed to publish an inventory of the exact cost of fossil fuel subsidies prior to agreeing a timetable to phase them out but failed to get the United States on board.
  3. GLOBAL CLIMATE STOCKTAKE A key task of COP28 was the 'global stocktake' sign-off, whereby the voluntary commitments of the parties are evaluated against the current science. The verdict is that the world is heading for a 'hellish 3 °C rise in global temperatures. Instead of waiting for another round of voluntary commitments in 2025 at COP30 in Brazil's rainforest in order to make the grade, COP28 President Sultan al Jaber pushed for several measures to hasten the transition away from fossil fuels. This includes a pledge to triple renewable power by 2030. This is good news for African countries with a head start in solar, wind and other green energy, a club which includes South Africa, Ethiopia, Kenya, Morocco and Egypt.
  4. CLIMATE FINANCE Substantive new pledges on grants, loans and investments for climate finance in African states, crucial to move ahead to introduce infrastructure based on renewables, failed to materialise. Projected needs for Africa on adaptation – one of three classes of finance – are between $50bn-$70bn a year: going into COP28, the cumulative contributions for adaptation amounted to just $1.3bn from 26 industrialised (major polluting) countries. African governments and companies will have to redouble efforts to secure investment in renewable energy.
  5. CARBON OFFSETTING Alternative sources of finance such as carbon offsetting and carbon capture are now intrinsic to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) text through the use of the term 'unabated' to describe carbon dioxide  that is not pumped into the ground or contained in forests. Without agreement on a 'carbon floor' (about $75 per metric tonne of carbon) the market for carbon credits remains unstable. Undeterred, Kenya's President William Ruto enthuses about the global scheme, saying carbon credits are his country's 'next significant export'.
  6. CARBON TAXES Less enthusiastic about carbon trading and the European Union's roster of carbon border taxes is Akinwumi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank (AfDB), who claims the EU's measure (due to be introduced in 2024) will cost Africa $25 billion per year. The lack of movement on an international carbon market agreement means some of the negotiations will shift to the World Trade Organization (WTO). There South Africa and India are leading a group of member states (with low-key support from the US) arguing the EU Carbon Border Tax poses a discriminatory trade barrier.
  7. FOOD PRODUCTON The WTO launched its new Trade Policy Tools at COP28 to encourage food producers to transition away from using fossil fuels. The carbon footprint of Africa's food production is now around on world trade is around 3% of the global total but as the sector expands with external investment, the WTO initiative will encourage new techniques for farming and trade. Everywhere, food and farming will be more closely linked to policy on security to climate, infrastructure and energy.
  8. GREEN MINERALS The lack of progress on climate finance is encouraging African states to boost marketing of their Critical Raw Materials such as lithium, bauxite and platinum that are needed for the batteries, turbines and solar cells used in renewable energy. Policymakers are pushing for stronger links between green infrastructure and trade. More initiatives are planned to build solar energy infrastructure in Africa instead of importing all the capital goods from China and Europe.
  9. LOSS AND DAMAGE FUND Agreement on the Loss and Damage Fund launch was reached on the eve of the opening of the COP28. The EU and the US negotiators prevailed on most of their negotiating points. The Fund would operate with the World Bank taking on its fiduciary management and it is to be financed by a mixture of grants and loans. Projects for financing would be chosen by an independent secretariat with a broader representation than the World Bank board. Total pledges made to the fund – at under $700 million – at the COP28 summit were regarded as symbolic and as a means to make it operational but were not seen as a realistic attempt to compensate for historic climate damage by industrial economies. For example, US President Joe Biden's climate envoy John Kerry committed only $17.5m.
  10. LEGAL LIABILITIES African activists and policy makers, and others in the global south, are considering more remedies through national and international legal systems to claims of pollution and climate damage. Many are monitoring the International Court of Justice ruling on the legal liabilities of polluters in a case which has been brought by the small island state of Vanuatu.

The 28th UN Conference of the Parties climate summit – a users' guide
How to navigate the facts, the figures and the declarations | By Tim Concannon and Jerry Sam in Accra and Caroline Chebet in Nairobi


This article was developed with the support of Journalismfund Europe
Journalismfund Europe